“I wish everyone would just leave me alone. I’ll quit tomorrow. No one seems to understand. I wish that I could run away to a place where they don’t have any drugs. Then I’d get better…”
What is Addiction and Recovery, Really?
Until we can answer that question, how can we begin to look towards a solution in terms of intervention? In other words, if we don’t truly understand the problem, then how can we address it in an effective manner? Understanding the true nature of addiction and recovery can help family members to understand and help their loved one to recover.
Using the S.MA.R.T. Model of Interventions, Intervention Services seeks to educate families with a workable system that empowers them to help their loved ones. Although many studies suggest that addiction is a disease, understanding this does almost nothing to empower a family member to influence their addicted loved one to change.
Looking at addiction as a disease can and often will empower an addict, but it rarely empowers a family. So when we collectively decide to intervene, we must look at addiction differently and in a way that allows us to provide the most amount of help.
Addiction and Recovery: Is it a “Drug” problem?
Many family members focus a great deal of attention on the drug abuse itself. They think to themselves If only my son would quit drinking or using cocaine, his life would be great. For years they have focused so much attention on the drug use that, in their minds, it is THE problem, perhaps the only one.
However, studies with methadone (used to stop heroin abusers from using Heroin), show that a great percentage of Heroin addicts who go on methadone do stop using heroin, but then begin to abuse other drugs such as benzodiazepines, alcohol, and marijuana.
In addition, studies show that crack cocaine usage rates actually double within the first year of methadone use. And, of course, we must look at other process addictions such as gambling, sex addiction, eating disorders, etc.
Has a gambling addict become “addicted” to playing cards simply because he has been touching cards too frequently? Of course not.
Even involving substances, it is a process that becomes addicting, rather than the object. In many cases removing the primary drug of choice from the addict without adding some form of recovery program just results in the addict temporarily switching to other addictions.
So, it’s time to quit blaming the substances, even though their abuse does create many problems.
Now we are not suggesting that an addict isn’t physically dependent on a drug, or that psychologically he or she isn’t compelled to use drugs or alcohol. It’s just that many families confuse the physical dependency on the drug with the addiction itself. In order to effectively intervene on your loved one, you must separate the two.
An addiction is separate from physical dependency. So what are they really addicted to?
The words addiction and recovery in the dictionary would commonly appear like this:
Pronunciation: a-dik-shÉn, a- Function: noun
1: the quality or state of being addicted
2: a compulsion or need for and use of a habit-forming substance (such as cocaine, heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal; broadly: persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful
Apparently, even the dictionary defines addiction as a “drug problem”. Perhaps our first problem is that many people have a misunderstanding of what addiction and recovery really is and almost always associate the word addiction with the substance they are “addicted” to.
We have suggested that substance abusers do not have a “drug” problem, per se, but instead have an underlying problem which leads to substance abuse. Many family members already suspect this, but then begin to look for this “underlying problem”. They try to recall some major traumatic life event that occurred in the substance abuser’s life which may have led to the addiction. In other cases, they suspect that it is a fear of success, being socially awkward, or deep-seated insecurity. Or maybe it is a psychiatric manifestation such as undiagnosed bipolar, or depression?
Instead of attaching the word addiction to a drug, let’s try and find one underlying behavior that can describe the majority of traits, behaviors, and actions of a substance abuser, including but beyond just the substance abuse itself.
So What is Addiction and Recovery?
We have dealt with thousands of cases of substance abusers and their families. Over time, we began to see that a majority of substance abusers behaved in a very predictable manner on almost every intervention. Although there were some slight differences with different drugs, essentially they behaved in the same ways and often said the same things.
It didn’t matter what the upbringing if they were raised in a family with a good sense of morals and values, or one with relative “dysfunction” or chaos. Again, the substance abusers behaved in a predictable manner. But why?
Do not look at the substances, look for common behaviors, then look for one predominant underlying cause for those behaviors. When educating families on our intervention family day, we are going to present to you an idea, as well as back up this idea with these common behaviors that all suggest one thing:
The underlying operating basis for an addict, as well as the reason for almost all of their behaviors including the substance abuse, is primarily AVOIDING DISCOMFORT, emotional, mental, or physical.
In other words, addiction is primarily about, and in some cases, only about avoiding discomfort. We are trying to help you to understand that, although your loved one may have become temporarily physically dependent on a substance, there is some underlying process that a substance abuser is really becoming addicted to throughout this progression…and it isn’t really the drugs.
A New Definition of Addiction and Recovery in Terms of Interventions
We need to find a definition of addiction and recovery that helps you, the family member, to intervene. A definition that helps you to understand the underlying problems, as well as allows you to understand what recovery really is. We are going to ask you to look beyond the temporary short-term physical dependence of drugs, to look beyond any genetic predispositions or increased receptor sites within the brain.
In order to effectively intervene you have to know what the problems are and what they are going to be. In order to best understand the intervention process, addiction itself, as well as recovery we have found that, for our purpose, the best definition of addiction is the following:
Addiction: Is a set of learned behaviors, actions, and manipulations that an individual uses, despite negative consequences, to avoid confronting uncomfortable feelings, confrontations, responsibilities, or situations.
At this point, many people tend to disagree. They might ask “How can you say that my loved one, who has been using Heroin every day for years isn’t really addicted to Heroin? And we are going to counter that:
If you focus your attention and energies on the Heroin (or any drug) as THE problem, then you will find little long lasting solutions. You may eventually find yourself assuming that there is no help other than locking your loved one away on a deserted island for life.
In other words, what your loved one is REALLY BECOMING ADDICTED TO is avoiding uncomfortable feelings, confrontations, situations, and responsibilities. If you, as a family member, can truly grasp and understand this, then you can reasonably predict and understand almost all of the actions and behaviors of a substance abuser in their active addiction.
Understanding Addiction and Recovery
So, if addiction is avoiding uncomfortable feelings, things and situations then our definition of recovery must be facing uncomfortable feelings, things and situations in a healthy manner. If your loved one returns home to you, remains abstinent, but refuses to get a job, won’t confront his bills and postpones responsibilities until later, then guess what? Your loved one isn’t in recovery at all.
Much of the confusion about addiction for families lies in the fact that there are several stages of addiction. There is a major difference in early “pleasure seeking” behaviors (that do not actually qualify as an addiction yet) compared to actual addiction. Addressing each stage as one all-encompassing addiction leaves a family member or someone seeking help rather confused.
Common Characteristics of Addiction and Recovery Help
The majority of alcoholics and addicts that we intervene on are not primarily addicted to drugs and alcohol. Rather, they have become addicted to avoiding uncomfortable feelings, things, situations, confrontations, and responsibilities. And this becomes obvious if we observe their behavior while they are sober, rather than when they are intoxicated. Look at the list below of a few common characteristics of most drug addicts and alcoholics:
- Doesn’t take accountability
- Postpones uncomfortable obligations
- Won’t communicate, shuts down.
- Shifts the blame
- “I’ll quit tomorrow”
- Runs away from emotionally uncomfortable situations
- Explodes or reacts explosively to uncomfortable situations
- “Can we talk tomorrow?”
- Failure to initiate action
Let our addiction and recovery intervention team help you
What do all these things have in common? It is interesting to note that the problem isn’t so much a drug or alcohol problem as it is one of how he handles an uncomfortable feeling or situation…or makes it go away. Our trained interventionists will describe the manipulations and traits common to most alcoholics and addicts.
Every method that we describe really has one thing in common. What can I say or do to make an uncomfortable situation go away? Which is really the same reason he uses drugs or alcohol, isn’t it? Why do some people have a successful recovery, while others don’t?
An alcoholic or addict can be quite skilled at telling you exactly what you want to hear, even if it isn’t true, just to get you off his back. But understand that in addiction and recovery, words and promises without actions mean nothing.
Whether it is lies, threats, running away, drinking or using, each of these make uncomfortable things, feelings and situations “go away”. These are his survival mechanisms that he has learned that have worked for him in the past.
For him these are the same methods that he will also use to make the intervention and its goals disappear.
Help us to help you to understand your loved one in a way that empowers you to help them. Help us to get your loved one into facing their life in a healthy manner instead of avoiding it. Find out more about how to get them into treatment.